I was 16, 17, and 18 years old at the end of the 1970s. Because of my age and because of the way I had been brought up (i.e., in suburban-whitebread-conformist-acquisition-land, aka upper-middle class Calgary) my experience of going dancing in gay bars in the late 70s led to expectations and understandings that I never really got over until recently (at age 50).
Brainwashed by moving through grades in school and by a constant barrage of achievement-based messages, I think I understood the stuff that happened to me as a teenager--like getting my period and getting thighs and hips and having to go to school and working in my dad's restaurant and applying to university--as a progression. One does such and such to become such and such, which is better than not doing such and such and not becoming such and such.
So in high school, when I started to go out disco dancing in the gay bars, my experience felt like part of that "natural" progression. What a beautiful experience it was for me!
I didn't have any of these words for it then, I just wanted to be there every weekend: I loved dancing. I loved the freedom to move and let movement happen spontaneously. I loved communing with other people as we danced in a trancey state. I loved the experimentation with style and self-expression. I loved the feeling of safety among gay men; I didn't have to be or look a certain way that would please them.
The hyper-sexualization of young women and girls did not exist then the way it does today, but it existed enough to fuck up my ideas about my self-image for life. In gay bars I found a refuge. I was (am) an intense, deep, feeling person. "Freak" is embedded in my DNA coding. I was with the other freaks and we had a place and it was a scene.
I felt connected. I felt free. I felt like I belonged somewhere.
So because this happened to me at my age and stage in life, it felt like part of that progression I had been led to believe was awaiting me. I felt like this feeling, connection with myself and my fellow humans in a free safe non-judgmental way, was part of what life was. Ha ha. I went off into the world, first university, then travel and jobs, and, never ever ever did that "place" await me in the world. I'm just lucky to have my kids and a husband who supports me.
I have often expressed that I can't believe that I lived through the 70s and the world still looks like this: i.e., nothing has changed, ego and greed still rule. That beautiful emerging energy of openness and connection that I was fortunate to experience didn't go very far or very wide.
Sure, gay people have more civil rights. But that's not what I'm talking about. And, yes, that scene that fed my teenage self certainly included hyper-sexualized image judgment, just not directed toward the likes of me! Not to mention addiction and the sad future of AIDS.
I've been seeing a therapist who has made me promise to do a practice every day. I've started disco dancing every morning. Through my dancing practice, I have finally realized that my youthful experience of that energy was personal, not actually part of the progression I believed I was promised. The energy of connection and optimism, for me anyway, only exists in the dancing itself.
For me this is a sad story: letting go of my attachment to what I experienced and the hope of finding it again in the world. And a kind of happy story: at least I, personally, can feel connection and optimism just by dancing.
My current favourite dance songs:
You Make Me Feel Mighty Real by Sylvester (an early AIDS victim), in my opinion the best disco song ever:
Hey Ya! by Outkast:
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